Binayak Dewan (BD): It's a recognition of my work, which has definitely encouraged me further to do what I have been doing with much more zeal and as the organizers say the awards are for - ''The Unsung Heroes.''
AS: Why did your quit your job at Jet Airways? How did you get involved as an entrepreneur?
BD: I have been an entrepreneur at heart from my childhood days and after 8 long years, in 2008, I quit my job at Jet Airways to pursue my passion of being an entrepreneur and I have become a successful entrepreneur now.
In 2010, when I saw an ad by a local NGO looking for a person with business background to run their economic development project, I realized that I had found my true calling and thus began my journey of kindling the spirit of entrepreneurship in the heart and mind of my rural brothers and sisters.
AS: Can you talk about the initiative, which helped you in receiving the award?
BD: I would like to thank Ms. Tithiya Sharma, from Hope Monkey who saw my crowdfunding effort on the Internet for an all women's self help group(SHG) and nominated me for the award. The crowdfunding effort was to raise funds for the SHG to set up a chocolate processing unit. Unfortunately the agitation started and we had strikes for three months and I could not raise the amount for the unit. ( I am still looking for funds to set up this unit).
At the same time my nomination was also accepted and I was asked to send further details of my work , which were:
1. Setting up of a spice manufacturing and processing plant for the spice farmers of Darjeeling - by this time I had already coined the name ?Darjeeling Spice? as a brand name and got it registered also. Our manufacturing and packaging had already started and the product was out in the market as well.
2. Had established a cattle feed distributorship for the middlemen in the villages to supply good cattle feed to the dairy farmers.
3. Selling my photographs to raise money to build latrines villagers - I print and sell my photographs to raise funds and with this initiative till date, I have built one for a family in a village called Babukhola in the Bagora Forest Range (but this village still needs 16 more and my efforts are still on).
4. Opening a bank account for approx. 200 people in the rural areas where there was no banking facilities.
AS: What made you take up this initiative?
BD: The plight of the farmers and the income disparity, where the farmers were getting peanuts for the hard labour and toil, and the middleman in the regulated market were getting richer and richer. Hence, I pushed my office to write a proposal to set up a unit, where we could make a finished product from the raw material grown by the farmers, and sell the finished product in the market whereby they would be getting a fair price for their produce and they would be on the road to financial stability.
AS: Do you think that the farmers in Darjeeling are in a sorry state?
BD: Absolutely, they toil day in and day out, irrespective of the harsh weather and what do they earn? Not enough to even cover their cost, spiraling down into debt.
AS: How successful have you been in transforming the lives of the farmers?
BD: I cannot claim that I have changed and turned around their lives. But, yes, I have given them a ray of hope and kindled the spirit of entrepreneurship amongst them and as a result, Darjeeling Spice is owned and run by the farmers (Ginger, Turmeric,Round Chilly powder and Chilly paste are produced by farmers).
They have started making a name for themselves, Their morale have also increased. The best thing is that whatever be the market situation, they will be getting proper price for their produce from the Darjeeling Spice initiative.
AS: Have you always been a person for others, right from your schooldays?
BD: Yes, even in my school and college days in Darjeeling, I used to get my friends together and we used to go on cleaning drives to villages nearby, visit the local hospital , provide free meals, medicine and clothes to poor patient?s.
AS: There has been instances when you have talked about income disparity in Darjeeling. Can you explain your stance?
BD: This is the scenario: a farmer has to sell a bundle of Coriander leaves to the retailer for 3 rupees and the retailer sells it for 10 rupees per bundle. The farmer has no choice but to sell it at that rate, as there is a nexus amongst the retailers and the farmer is not in a position to negotiate.
The local vegetable produce has to be transported to the regulated market in Siliguri, where there is no arrangement for cold storage and hence sold at low price. The same vegetables gets supplied to Darjeeling urban market and is sold at a very high cost. With this, I hope one understands what I mean to say when I say that there is disparity between the rural and urban people.
AS: What is your word of advice for others who run after money and don't indulge in social service?
BD: I believe that all should inculcate the habit of giving back to the society - it is an enriching experience that no money can buy.
AS: Where do we see Binayak after this initiative? What are your future goals?
BD: My work is still not complete. There is lot more to be done and I know I would not be able to do it all alone. The REX Conclave has opened up a lot of doors and ideas and a path for collaboration. My goal would be to get more and more people involved into what I do so that, even in my absence the good work never stops. I will help create a REX chapter in Darjeeling itself so that more heroes can be encouraged in the district to keep such initiative going forward.